As COVID-19 swept the world in 2020, the Philippines became Southeast Asia’s most affected country.
RTI International supports the COVID-19 response in the Philippines through ReachHealth, a five-year United States Agency for International Development (USAID) project that strengthens and improves access to family planning and maternal and child health services.
Building on 14 years of RTI experience working with local governments in the Philippines to improve health outcomes, the USAID ReachHealth Project supports the COVID-19 response in 15 priority local government units (LGUs) across the country. Working closely with the Department of Health (DOH), the Department of Interior and Local Governance, UN agencies, the private sector, and civil society organizations, we strengthen the government’s emergency response at all levels. Our support includes operationalizing nationwide COVID-19 policies, helping facilities access national COVID-19 financing, strengthening the capacities of health workers on infection prevention and control and case management, improving contact tracing, and supporting risk communication and community engagement efforts.
Here are just six of the important ways we are responding to COVID-19 in the Philippines:
1. Strengthening community health and support systems
Barangay Health Emergency Response Teams, or BHERTs, usually connect community members to health facilities — but during times of emergency their work becomes more important than ever. These neighborhood-based teams form the frontline of efforts to delay COVID-19’s spread and locally contain the pandemic by communicating risk, facilitating contact tracing, and connecting communities with broader local health systems. ReachHealth works to ensure BHERTs in hotspot communities are active, effective, and trained on critical elements of the COVID-19 community response, including essential behaviors to prevent the virus’ spread, infection prevention and control, contact tracing, and quarantine and isolation.
2. Supporting a data-driven response
The DOH collaborated with the World Health Organization to launch a mobile application, COVID KAYA, that supports frontline responders with contact tracing and case monitoring. The introduction of any new, centralized data system across regions with varying needs and infrastructure can be challenging and uneven. Our team provides technical assistance to help local governments roll out the application, and directly trains officials, health workers, and personnel from health epidemiology units on its use.
3. Protecting the vulnerable
In the Philippines, 1 in 20 women and girls aged 15-49 have experienced sexual violence. COVID-19 lockdowns and quarantines brought extended periods of restricted movement and home confinement for millions of people — an unprecedented situation that worsened violence against women and children at home. ReachHealth supports the continued functioning of gender-based violence (GBV) services, such as a 24-hour helpline, while a messaging campaign, Hindi kailangang magtiis! (You don’t need to suffer in silence!), aims to prevent GBV and to let people know about available services.
4. Distributing essential equipment
Frontline health workers continue to need personal protective equipment (PPE) to care for their patients safely. In partnership with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, ReachHealth supported the distribution of PPE donated by the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency to 50 hospitals, rural health units, and quarantine facilities in vulnerable areas across the country.